Confirmed: NZ teams to relocate to Queenstown for opening rounds of Super Rugby Pacific
New Zealand Rugby [NZR] has confirmed the five Kiwi franchises, and Moana Pasifika, will relocate to Queenstown for the opening rounds of Super Rugby Pacific.
As has been widely reported in recent days, the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders, Highlanders and Moana Pasifika will all be based out of Queenstown in a bid to mitigate the threat posed by the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
In a statement released on Wednesday, NZR general manager of professional rugby Chris Lendrum said the move gives Super Rugby Pacific its best chance of kicking off as planned on February 18 without disruption from the virus.
“Under current Covid-19 regulations it would only take one positive case entering a squad environment to shut down an entire squad for 10 days,” Lendrum said.
“The knock-on effect for the rest of the competition would be the postponement or cancellation of matches.
“By moving the teams to a secure hub, we believe we have a good chance of preventing a Covid-19 infection, or close contact event, side-lining one of our teams for a prolonged period.
“The plan is currently for the teams to move to Queenstown early next week and remain in Queenstown for the opening three weeks of the competition.”
As such, the Blues, Hurricanes, Moana Pasifika, and Chiefs will fly to Queenstown on charter flights, while the Crusaders and Highlanders will bus south over the coming weekend following their Farmlands Cup clash in Oamaru on Friday.
NZR confirmed that teams will operate in separate bubbles, with Queenstown to play host to day matches at Wakatipu Rugby Club, while Invercargill will host night fixtures at Rugby Park.
Teams will bus to and from Invercargill – which is just over two hours south of Queenstown – on match days, with fixtures to be playing accordingly based on last December’s revised season schedule.
All matches in Invercargill and Queenstown will be played without crowds, as per New Zealand’s current red light Covid setting.
NZR added that teams will stay in local hotels in Queenstown and utilise training facilities within the area, all while implementing the Covid protocols used by the All Blacks on their end-of-year tour last season.
Players and management will be allowed to undertake outdoor activities, but will be required to remain within their bubbles at all times.
Lendrum said the relocation of the teams to Queenstown is a temporary measure, with plans in place for teams to return to their respective home bases early next month.
“We are committed to bringing the teams home in early-March regardless of the COVID-19 landscape,” he said.
“We realise there is a significant sacrifice in leaving whanau behind to play these matches and we are grateful for the cooperation of our players, the New Zealand Rugby Players’ Association, Sky and also the Queenstown Lakes District Council who have accommodated our requests at short notice and providing facilities for our teams to train and play in the region.”
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